North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler

Liz Kessler's series books starring Emily Windsnap and Philippa Fisher are tween girl favorites (we like Emily Windsnap, the half-mermaid, best), but her standalone books are equally appealling: this one, North of Nowhere (Candlewick, 2013), is part mystery, part magic--but to say more about what sort of magic it might be would give some of it away, so I'll stick to what Mia knows: she is stuck in a sleepy seaside village on the coast of Cornwall (no cell phones, no Internet) over spring break because her grandfather has gone missing, and she and her mother have to help Gran run the pub.

If Mia sounds a tiny bit self-absorbed, it's because she is--she's in eighth grade, after all--and Kessler's writing, in Mia's voice, reflects that. But she's also genuinely concerned about her grandfather, and eager to make friends: with a girl she gets to know by way of letters exchanged via an old diary (I loved this part), and a boy, Peter, who's determined to help the two girls meet. She's also willing to walk the dog (Flake, a border collie--I liked him, too).

The girl in the diary (Mia knows her only as Dee) lives on the island of Luffsands, off the coast of Cornwall, which complicates matters when stormy weather makes it impossible for her to get to the mainland village of Porthaven, where Mia is waiting for her. And then Peter disappears, and Mia suspects he's gone to Luffsands to find Dee.

At risk of revealing too much, the island of Luffsands is based on the true story of Hallsands, a British village that collapsed into the sea almost a hundred years ago--but even with that information, it's almost impossible to know where the story is going until it's gotten there. And even then, you might have trouble believing it! Don't say Mia didn't warn you.

[This print is of South Hall Sands circa 1900, by Gerry Miles (2007). It's just how I imagined the village of Porthaven might look, too.]

Post-Valentine's Day YA

So, I've been reading a little more YA lately--enough to make this list of YA novels that involve both a. kissing, and b. trips to Europe. What's not to love?

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (Poppy, 2012). Hadley falls in love with Oliver on a flight from New York to London for her father's wedding. Aside (or not): Hadley is understandably upset about her father's remarriage. He was on fellowship at Oxford over a year ago--still married to Hadley's mom--when he fell in love with a much younger woman, whom Hadley has thus far refused to meet. Adult readers must try to overlook this. Anyway, after a cinematic kiss (see cover), Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other at Heathrow, but fate and second chances bring them back together (twice!) over the next 24 hours.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (Dutton, 2010). Anna is inexplicably reluctant to go to boarding school in Paris, where she will meet a cute French boy (she should know, because her father writes romance novels). This book is like having a whole box of macarons. In Paris.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 2012). Hazel and Augustus go to Amsterdam. Before one of them DIES.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman (Dutton). Just one day in Paris with a sexy Dutch guy you just met at an underground performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, followed by a year of heartache and a sequel (Willem's side of the story, Just One Year, will be out this fall). Note to future Milly: Don't even think about it.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (Dial, 2012). Okay, this one is the opposite of Europe: almost everything happens, well, next door. But there is lots of kissing.

Tulip Mania, the Sequel: Snowdrops

I read this article in yesterday's Washington Post ("Letter from Ireland: Snowdrops are a prize in full bloom," by Adrian Higgins, 2/20/2013), about the mania for snowdrop bulbs in Ireland, with great interest, partly because who doesn't love snowdrops in February? But mostly because I'm also interested in reading about the seventeeth-century Dutch mania for tulips. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be many middle grade or YA books set during the Dutch Golden Age: just The House of Windjammer by V.A. Richardson (Bloomsbury, 2003) and its sequels, The Moneylender's Daughter and The Street of Knives, which seem to involve a lot of seafaring and anyway are out of print. Maybe there are more?

Picture book readers, though, might like Hana in the Time of the Tulips by Deborah Noyes, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick, 2004). Ibatoulline's illustrations echo the style of the Dutch masters, particularly Rembrandt, who appears as a character in this book. And Noyes's work is always interesting, whether she's writing about tulips or wolf girls or Chinese princesses. And those are just the picture books!

A Walk in London for Nonfiction Monday

A mother and daughter take A Walk in London in this lively, lovely picture book guide to the city by Salvatore Rubbino (Candlewick, 2011). Their day begins at 11am in Westminster and includes Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard, the lions in Trafalgar Square, lunch at Covent Garden, a climb up to the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, the Bank of England, the Tower of London, and a boatride on the Thames. For the record, it took my daughter and I ten days to do all of that! (But we went to the British Museum, too.)

While the main text recounts the day's events in the daughter's voice ("Hello! There's me, and that's my mom!"), spot text in a smaller font highlights related trivia (during a sudden shower, "London is Europe's third rainiest city. About twenth-three inches of rain falls here every year"). Rubbino's mixed media illustrations, often double-page spreads of city scenes, are carefully laid out and layered with just the right amount of detail. They also have lots of retro appeal. Here's an example from his first picture book, A Walk in New York (Candlewick, 2009; I couldn't find any interior images of London online):

London features a foldout Thames Panorama that would have come in handy on the London Eye, while the endpapers trace the mother and daughter's route on a map of the city. Don't forget to look for the royal family's car along the way!

Reminiscent of but more child-friendly than M. Sasek's classic This is London (1959; reissued by Universe, 2004), the picture book we referred to most prior to our trip, A Walk in London is the one we read to remember it. Mr. Rubbino, if you're reading this, please take us on a walk in Rome next!